When the dust settled in Montreal after UFC 158, two things became clear about Johny Hendricks, the next challenger to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
First, he's not about to go on the sort of trash-talking spree that enabled Nick Diaz to command the bulk of the headlines leading up to Saturday night's event.
"I don't want to sit there and badmouth somebody," Hendricks said at the post-fight news conference. "We all train hard, we all put in the same exact sacrifice every fight. I don't want to say 'he's this, he's that, he's this.'"
Second, unlike Diaz, who looked woefully ill-equipped to handle St-Pierre in a unanimous-decision loss in the Bell Centre main event, Hendricks just might have the skill set necessary to give the longtime welterweight standard-bearer the true test he's long been lacking.
Hendricks took his latest step up the ladder Saturday with a memorable victory over former WEC and interim UFC champion Carlos Condit in the co-feature bout. Despite injuring his knockout left hand early in the fight, Hendricks got the best of Condit in a unanimous decision, mixing his strikes with his wrestling to win the first two rounds and holding off a hard-charging Condit in the final frame.
"Carlos is tough," Hendricks said. "I was hitting pretty hard and he was taking them, so once your weapons are injured, you gotta find another way to win, and that's what I did. I knew Carlos is tough, I knew that I had to fight him everywhere. Hopefully, it shows that I can do a little bit of everything."
Hendricks had long since proven himself as one of the division's heaviest hitters, with brutal one-punch knockouts over respected names like Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann. He had shown an ability to grind out victories when needed over fellow elite wrestlers like Josh Koscheck.
Saturday's performance, though, was altogether different. This was a demonstration of Hendricks' ability to mix his skills against one of MMA's toughest and most well-rounded fighters, competing on the same card as the champion and doing so with the looming pressure of a promised title shot.
The victory was the sixth in a row for the former two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Oklahoma State, who improved to 15-1. It also left him convinced he has the skills and the will to unseat a dominant titleholder.
"I believe I've got better wrestling than him," Hendricks said of St-Pierre (24-2). "I did it since I was five. I also go back to Oklahoma State all the time, so yeah, I believe I'm a better wrestler than him. I hit harder than him. That's a proven fact.
"I'm excited for the opportunity. Hopefully I can finish him, that's my goal."
Don't mistake Hendricks' matter-of-fact confidence for arrogance. Unlike Diaz, who accused St-Pierre of everything from fear to steroid use leading up to the fight, then continued to talk trash after GSP gave him a beating which should have shut him up, Hendricks is respectful of the champion's place in the sport and appreciative of his TBD title opportunity.
"I'm just excited, you know?" Hendricks said. "I finally got to the top and now I'm actually going to get to fight him. ... That's my showcase. Whenever you fight this guy, I don't want to hate them to fight them. It's my job. I want to put on a show for you guys and that's the way I look at it. To get to fight Georges, I just can't wait."
Hendricks was the biggest winner among welterweight contenders after a night long anticipated in the 170-pound division. The card was built as a welterweight showcase, and though it required a bit of juggling after Rory MacDonald had to drop out with an injury, the evening still served its purpose in charting the division's future path.
Jake Ellenberger (29-6) also emerged a big winner after a big first-round knockout of former Strikeforce and Pancrase champion Nate Marquardt (32-12-2).
Ellenberger was originally slated to face Hendricks, who took MacDonald's slot against Condit. Ellenberger wasn't happy with the switch, but he made the most of it, as he earned knockout of the night honors in taking his eighth victory in his past nine bouts.
That said, he's not sure what is the next obvious step in the division.
"I'm not really sure right now," Ellenberger said. "I was just so focused on Nate Marquardt tonight and winning the fight. I've never turned down anyone in the UFC. Anyone they've put me against, I've matched up. I'm focusing on that title shot."
Meanwhile, it's tough to label Condit (28-7) a "loser" despite not getting the nod against Hendricks on Saturday night. This marked the second straight time "The Natural Born Killer" has put on a memorable show while coming out on the wrong end of a fight-of-the-night performance, as he lost to St-Pierre in the main event of UFC 154 in the very same Bell Centre in November.
In his past six bouts, Condit has won Fight of the Night three times, Knockout of the Night twice, and in the other, he defeated Diaz for the interim UFC title. With a recent resume like that, it's a lock Condit's next fight will be relevant in the top of the division.
"Its pretty obvious what I need to do," Condit said. "I need to go work on my wrestling. Both fights they were the deciding factor. You know what, both fights, I put on a show, I left it all out there, and came up short in both instances. I gotta go back and re-evaluate."
The spotlight belonged to Hendricks on Saturday. Condit, who has fought them both in his last bouts, had a cogent point to make to wrap up Saturday's welterweight sweepstakes.
"It will be an interesting fight," Condit said. "Johny has good wrestling, as does Georges. The striking styles are quite a bit different. Georges is crisp, Johny has a lot of power and is more of a brawler. So, you know, it's an interesting matchup."
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